By: Kebby Maphatsoe
It is with a heavy heart that I stand up today to speak. The passing of commander Abe Sishuba, as all of us in Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) knew him, has hit the community of MK veterans very hard.
Comrade Abe was truly one of the very best among us, a true comrade, freedom fighter and soldier. Trained by some of the best instructors in the former Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Cuba his technical military skills were unsurpassed.
When comrade Abe lectured urban and guerilla warfare and counter- insurgency one would hang on his lips, knowing that you are learning from a true professional soldier. He was indeed an outstading artillary commander. Similarly, when comrade Abe talked politics one would immediately know that you are listening to a true political commissar of the ANC.
Very few among us have managed to integrate military professionalism and historical political understanding so seemlessly, and with true insight and understanding. Comrade Abe was a highly sophisticated and well-rounded revolutionary. The African National Congress invested much in building him up into the remarkable commander that he had become, and comrade gave much back to the ANC, and to all of us, in return.
Comrade Mayor Masina, who was meant to be here with us today will remember how only two months ago comrade Abe spoke at the Mutale River Battle Commemoration in Tembisa on the 28th of March. The artful manner in which he wove together revolutionary politics and military professional knowledge was something to behold.
Proud liberation fighter and soldier that he was, comrade Abe always understood, and lived these wise words of the great Amilcar Cabral: “Hide nothing from the masses of the people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories …” Thus, he reminded us that important as the liberation war conducted by MK was, it was never more important than the popular insurrection of the people throughout the cities, townships and rural villages of our country.
It was this deep political understanding of comrade Abe that made him, in his humility, immensely powerful.
There are sometimes tendencies among those of us MK veterans who went into exile, and who were in the MK training camps in Angola and elsewhere, and received military training similar to what comrade Abe had received, to behave as if we are a kind of elite. We sometimes behave as if we are more special than other comrades, and the masses of our people, who also dedicated their lives to the liberation of our country.
Such bebaviour, as if only those who were in the MK camps in exile were truly MK, always deeply irked comrade Abe. He would not tire to remind us that it was a formal decision of the ANC High Command and Umkhonto we Sizwe to train courageous young people, and arm them, to become Self Defense Units (SDU’s), and that the members of SDU’s played a critical role in defending our communities, especially in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, against the brutality of the apartheid state. SDU members in many instances have seen more direct combat than those of us MK soldies who were in exile. Townships and large areas here on the East Rand literally became liberated zones because of the fight put up by SDU’s. The last words of comrade Abe’s speech at the Mutale River Commemoration was, “please never forget the SDU’s …”.
Comrades, this was said by an MK commander, who more than most of us in MK have participated in all the major battles that MK had fought.
Comrade Abe was one of the commanders of a contingent of MK cadres who were carefully selected by the Commander of MK, comrade Joe Modise, and the then President of the ANC, comrade OR Tambo, to cross the Zambezi River in 1978 and to fight alongside ZIPRA for the liberation of Zimbabwe until the ceasefire was announced on the basis of the Lancaster Agreement. He always spoke with great fondness of how the people of Zimbabwe warmly embraced the liberation fighters, and took care of them.
Comrade Abe also fought alongside the MPLA and the Cuban soldiers against the SADF that invaded Angola. He always spoke with great admiration and love about the courageous Angolan nation, and the immense contribution that they made to our liberation.
Towards the end of our time in exile comrade Abe was the Chief of Logistics, and later Commander of our MK camp in Uganda. Our MK cadres who served under very difficult circumstances there under his command, only speak with the greatest of admiration about his leadership and care for them. Comrade Abe was a true soldiers, soldier. A man with a big heart, who truly cared for those under his command.
We must remind ourselves comrades that comrade Abe, even after he retired from his position as Major General, Commander of Artillary, did not stop being politically active. A true revolutionary never retires!
On the request of MKMVA he served in the Six Aside negotiations, under the auspices the ANC NEC Peace and Stability Sub-committee. Comrade Tony Yengeni the Chairperson of the Peace and Stability Sub-committee, can tell us that the same commander that he shared the trenches of the struggle with in exile, he also experienced in those Six Aside meetings.
Comrade Abe was strongly committed to unity in the ranks of all MK combatants, and made an invaluable contribution to our work in preparation of a unity conference of all MK veterans. In doing so he was very critical of MK National Council, as a parallel structure, and strongly critised them for being devicive and factional. He abhorred their eletist tendencies to question the bona fides of comrades who have made a true contribution in the liberation struggle, and to try to disregard them as members of MK (especially those comrades of the SDU’s), and exclude them from the membership data base of the Department of Military Veterans (DMV). He would tell the MK National Council to their faces that they are narrow minded, self-serving and elitist. Comrade Abe was never to be blown around by the wind, he was up to his very last day a man of principle, who lived an honest and straightfoward life.
These same admirable characteristcs were amply present in the work that comrade Abe did as Chairperson of the SAPS Non-Statutory Force Re- ranking Committee. Even when he was already gravely ill, comrade Abe accepted this position, and fought diligently against the obstructionist behavior, and reactionary court interdicts, of the racist Solidary Union. As chairperson of the Committee comrade Abe visited the all former NSF members in the various provinces and interviewed them in order to understand their plight and to make recommendations on the correct ranks which they should have been accorded through a genuine, and proper, integration process. Under his leadership the final recommendations were submitted to the National Commissioner and Minister of Police. The fact that our ex-MK NSF members today have good hope that justice will eventually prevail for them, is because of comrade Abe’s unwavering diligence and commitment to his fellow comrades.
As we lay comrade Abe to rest today, it would be amiss of me not to mention how deeply pained he was by the factionalism and divisions within the ANC. He often spoke to me about it, also during our last telephone conversation when he informed me that he was going into hospital for further medical treatment. The attempted disbandning of MKMVA by the ANC NWC pained him deeply.
Comrade Abe, having dedicated his whole life in service to the ANC and to MK, did not want our beloved Liberation Movement to be desroyed by ourselves. He understood very well the warning that comrade OR Tambo so often repeated to us in exile, when he visited our camps, namely that: “No political force can destroy the ANC – it is only the ANC that can destroy itself …”. He believed that we as MK veterans, who have always been the sharp spear of our struggle, and the most dedicated ANC members, have a special responsibilty to work for unity and to save the ANC. This he felt was especially important for us to do in this 60th anniversary year of celebrating the formation of MK on the 16th of December 1961. Thus, he strongly supported our slogan for the MK celebrations this year: “Forging unity among MK vetetans, in order to build a united ANC”.
It is heartbreaking that in this special anniversary year one of our greatest commanders, a humble servant of our people, a true people’s soldier, has passed on. We planned to have comrade Abe sharing so much of his wisdom, and to learn at his feet, during this special time in our history.
However, whilst we are in pain, and are mourning, it is important that MKMVA also celebrates a life well-lived through many decades of selfless service in the liberation struggle. The best way that we can truly honour comrade Abe is to put our slogan into practice, and to forge unity during this important year for MK. As MKMVA we are dedicated and ready. Our members, the members of the ANC, and indeed the whole of the people of South Africa, will not find us wanting.
MKMVA wishes to express our sincere condolences to comrade Abe’s wife, comrade Audrey Notsweleka, all his children, members of his extended family, and all comrades and friends.
Comrade Abe carried the Spear of our ongoing liberation struggle with unwavering commitment and great revolutionary dignity. Now that he passed on, we pause to pick up his Spear and re-commit ourselves to continue on the long march towards our full liberation, that he so selflessly helped to lead us on, thus far.
A LUTA CONTINUA!
HAMBA KAHLE UMKHONTO!